There are several ways in which an artist can finally say that they’ve “made it.”
Winning awards is certainly up there. Playing the biggest music festivals in the world is an honor for any musician, no matter their star status. Being invited to NPR’s exclusive Tiny Desk Concert series is on the bucket list of nearly every upcoming artist. And at just 19 years old, Declan McKenna has conquered all three in a seemingly effortless hat trick. So when he found out Sir Elton John himself was a fan of his music? Well, that’s just extra icing on an already extremely successful cake.
In 2015, before Declan McKenna was even old enough to drive, he won Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition. Since then, he has also won BBC Music’s “Introducing Artist of the Year” and played at Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Reading and Leeds Festivals. In a few short months, he will grace the Coachella stage in Indio, California, a milestone for any touring musician. But first, he’s kicking off his longest, most ambitious tour to date with three shows in Texas.
A packed audience is often hard to come by on a Wednesday night in a college town. But when some of the world’s most discerning tastemakers give an artist the green light, you gotta get out on a school night. Texas may be blessed with a bevy of exciting new acts to choose from on any given evening, but how many of them are endorsed by both Jools Holland and Elton John?
Before he appeared anywhere near the stage at Stubb’s, the crowd was already screaming. Forgiving the obvious Brit comparison, it seemed to harken back to the infamous footage of 60’s Beatlemania that many of us associate with fans of that period. Women of all ages, absolutely beside themselves, outstretched their arms through a crowd so thick there was barely room for air in it, hoping to catch just a graze of McKenna’s cropped red sweatshirt. When he finally did take the stage, the entire crowd surged forward, nearly joining him in the process.
He slung on his guitar and took in the sold-out crowd from glitter-rimmed eyes. Gleaming with the all the youthful hope that the first night of a tour can bring, he greeted the audience with the genuine sentiment that “it had been too long, Austin,” and then dove right into a non-stop setlist that for an hour, never dipped an ounce in energy. At no point throughout the night did the crowd stop singing along with him.
Fanfare aside, there is something truly endearing about his stage presence. He moves with the same strange ease that a young David Bowie once possessed, and his songs are more than catchy tunes made for pop radio. They are deeply personal and honest examinations of youth culture, politics, inclusion, confusion, and joy. In both his personal identity and his music, he has refused to be placed in a box; he remains staunchly against the notion of ‘labels’. While onstage, he easily vacillates between frenetic electric guitar attacks, slow, beautiful acoustic strumming, and climbing the furniture. Here, he is at home.
If there was one thing that made itself entirely clear on the first night of Declan McKenna’s far-reaching tour, it’s that he is not going anywhere anytime soon. He exudes the love he has for what he does with every movement, every leap, every plaintive wail into the microphone. And if the piercing screams of his fans (both male and female) are any indication, the kids’ got staying power, for sure.
While tickets to both the Austin and San Antonio shows have been sold out for weeks (as has much of the rest of the tour), folks in Dallas might still have their chance to get tickets for tonight’s show at Trees. Act fast!
And stay tuned next week to hear everything McKenna had to say about creating great art, making great mistakes, and battling ‘imposter syndrome.’
Cover photo Khrysi Briggs